Part 1: Why Jesus Taught Using Stories

WordfromSponsor_2This is the first is a series of posts exploring why Jesus used stories to convey his message.

I have a friend who gets frustrated when discussing various interpretations or perspectives on a passage from scripture. “Just tell me what it means,” she said once, exasperated after a discussion about one of Jesus’ parables.

Such frustration is understandable, given that the one person who arguably has all the answers chose to tell stories rather than provide us with a black-and-white explanation. But why did he choose the medium of story to convey his message?

The power of story offers something beyond the straightforward rules, laws and commandments found elsewhere in the Bible. Stories offer us more meaning and more nuance as we delve into them. Their truths are often layered and surrounded by context bulging with significance. Stories invite us into their world by asking us to relate and find meaning using experiences from our own lives. This, I believe is why Jesus used parables so often to teach and why those stories continue to provide relevant lessons for us today.

Stories offer connections to characters,  situations or  actions that bridge our own experiences and help us understand ourselves and others better. They helps us unpack meaning from our own stories so that we might understand their meaning and significance. And once we have wrestled the truth from our stories, they become sacred experiences that help us better understand ourselves, our relationship to God and the divine.

Now back to the question: why did Jesus use stories? This deserves a deeper dive. So let’s explore some of the reasons in a little more detail. Today, we look at Concrete vs. Abstract language.

Concrete vs. Abstract

Don’t get me wrong, etching rules into stone tables has its place. But that is not how Jesus chose to convey his message. He could have just as easily written the stoneback sequel to the 10 Commandments to provide further instruction to how best to live a Godly life. But he didn’t. He came as the Word made flesh, and by doing so, he made the abstract real. And his teaching followed the same course.

Most often, Jesus turned to parables in response to a specific question like, “But who is my neighbor?” Now, to be honest, this approach would probably frustrate the Gehenna out of me if my children constantly responded to me asking, “Have you brushed your teeth?” with a story that required hermeneutical analysis and introspection. I’m sure some of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day felt likewise, and I guess that was his point.

So, rather than saying offering some abstract principle defining who your neighbor should be, Jesus turned to the rhetorical tool of the parable to draw a picture with words, describe a scene, introduce characters and put the play in action. These concrete details provide tangible aspects of life that we recognize and understand through our experience of the world.

We are forced to deal with the universal truths through the messy specificity of our messy world: robbers, beggars, lost coins, weeds, sons, fathers, servants and employers. People and things we know yet require us to look at them differently. They speak to the here and now, the situations and people we confront every day. And like the fruit of the tree, we must break the husk to find the seeds of truth so they might be planted in the experience of our own backyard to grow and reveal their wisdom to us.

Who would have remembered the point if Jesus had responded with an abstraction like, “Your neighbor is everyone,” or “Your neighbor is the person you despise, your enemy, the other”? He embodied the truth in the concrete details of a story, making the truth sticky so that it stays with you even after the specific words have faded.

How the Worst Moments in Our Lives Make Us Who We Are

Writer Andrew Solomon has spent his career telling stories of the hardships of others. Now he turns inward, bringing us into a childhood of adversity, while also spinning tales of the courageous people he’s met in the years since. In a moving, heartfelt and at times downright funny talk, Solomon gives a powerful call to action to forge meaning from our biggest struggles.

What stories of your life have helped forge your identity? Share yours here.

When You Can’t Move On

Grief. Sadness. Pain.

These are real things. They are tangible. When we hear these words, we equate them to an experience in our life. They mean something to us because we have physically felt them, have sat in their presence, and have been forced to partake of their bitterness.

These words remind us of moments that haunt with us. They are found in memories that either ruin us or define us. They can be crippling and they can bring us to a place where we question whether or not we are able to go on. They hurt us. Physically, emotionally, and spiritually hurt us. And then leave us feeling empty, alone, and vulnerable.

I will never forget the moment in my life where I felt the most pain. I will never forget where I was, what I was doing, and who I was with. I will never forget the blow that came with the news that I was receiving, and the moments, minutes, days, and months that passed afterwards.

I would wake up from dreams that everything was okay, only to have to remember that it wasn’t okay. I would lay in my bed for hours at a time. I would go in fits of rage and throw frames and flip tables and fall on the floor sobbing. I would get in fetal position while I was in the shower and just sob while the water hit my body. I would stare at the wall for hours and would have nothing to say. There was nothing to say. I was in pain. Not physical pain. No, physical pain would have been manageable. I was in emotional pain. I couldn’t make sense of what had happened, and I couldn’t understand how God could let it happen.

Why didn’t he warn me?

Why didn’t he stop this?

Why did he let him do this to me?

Why didn’t he love me enough to get me out of it?

At first, I was angry with God. I was enraged. I didn’t want to listen to everyone’s prayers and encouragements because I felt like it was absolute garbage. I would get mad at people when they tried to encourage me. I didn’t want hugs because I felt like they were forced sympathy, and I absolutely despise sympathy that is given out of some sort of compassionate obligation. I didn’t want to be asked how I was, because honestly, nobody was ready for the answer.

I’m depressed. I hate life. I want to give up. I can barely get out of bed. I don’t eat. I don’t sleep. I don’t know how to make it through today. I want to leave the church. And you. And him.

It took awhile for those moments to pass…but they did. And new moments came. This was a different kind of grief, though. The grief of regret.

To me, the grief of regret is the worst kind of grief. It comes when you feel as though your time has been wasted while you simply allowed it. The grief associated with regret puts a lot of blame on you. It’s incredibly tough to swallow and even tougher to get over. So how do you get over it?

Slowly. I mean, slowwwwwwwly. I finally got through it and finally forgave him and myself, but if we’re being honest, it took about a year. But I did it, and it was the strange sort of accomplishment.

Why am I writing this? Honestly, I don’t know. Maybe because I feel like honesty heals our hearts. Maybe because it’s a completely different side of me that people don’t generally see. Maybe because it was just on my mind, and I needed to get it on paper.

The reason doesn’t matter. But what does matter is that you know this:

You’re not alone.

The lie that you’re alone in life’s struggles is the greatest and most effective lie that Satan uses. If he can convince you that you are alone, he’ll be able to convince you that you can’t seek help. Who would understand? People will judge you. And we believe it, dangit, we believe it all the time. We think that nobody would understand. We think that people would judge us. We think that they would never see us the same again. So instead of seeking the help that we need, we sit and we stew in our pain and misery and convince ourselves to stay there. Some of us have been there for minutes or days, some for weeks, some for years. Decades, even. Some have watched their life go by, and some have died in that grief. Some have died from the grief.

But I had a different thing happen to me. I believe that I lived because of my grief. In my grief, and in the sorrow and the pain and every single emotion that is validly experienced, I grew. I learned. I remembered. And I moved forward. And because of that grief, I now know so much happiness.

Because the truth of the matter is, without grief, we don’t know happiness. Without dark, we don’t recognize light.

So what do I do when life stops? I pray. And I hate saying that because it sounds like a bandaid for a huge gaping gunshot wound, but I pray. And I say, “God, this sucks, and I can’t do it. So can you help me get through this?”

That’s my prayer.Nothing complicated. Nothing fancy. Just me talking to my creator.  And he does help. Why? Because he loves me. Because he sees me. Because he values me and who I am. Because he knows who I will touch and what I will do and knows that he needs me strong.

And you know what? He loves you, too. He sees you in this season of pain, and he sees your heart in the moments of frustration. Don’t be afraid to come to him in honesty. Don’t be afraid to tell him how you feel. He’s a good father. He treasures your attention. He respects your privacy. He won’t turn you away.

Sometimes his answers take a long time to arrive, and that’s annoying. But don’t mistake his silence as abandonment. And don’t confuse his lengthy delivery as apathy. You are always on God’s mind. He’s always thinking about you.

But now comes the hard part- you need to actively work for yourself. You need to see yourself as important, as worthy, as ready to move on. You need to let go of the guilt, let go of the shame, and let go of the fear that comes with stepping back into the world. You need to see yourself as stronger in order to be stronger. Because right now, in this moment of pain that you’re experiencing, you are enough.

We are never stronger than when we ask for AND accept help.

You are not alone.
Lamentations 3:19-33

I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness,
the taste of ashes, the poison I’ve swallowed.
I remember it all—oh, how well I remember—
the feeling of hitting the bottom.
But there’s one other thing I remember,
and remembering, I keep a grip on hope:

God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out,
his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.
They’re created new every morning.
How great your faithfulness!
I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over).
He’s all I’ve got left.

25-27 God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits,
to the woman who diligently seeks.
It’s a good thing to quietly hope,
quietly hope for help from God.
It’s a good thing when you’re young
to stick it out through the hard times.

When life is heavy and hard to take,
go off by yourself. Enter the silence.
Bow in prayer. Don’t ask questions:
Wait for hope to appear.
Don’t run from trouble. Take it full-face.
The “worst” is never the worst.

Why? Because the Master won’t ever
walk out and fail to return.
If he works severely, he also works tenderly.
His stockpiles of loyal love are immense.
He takes no pleasure in making life hard,

Leah’s story,
reposted with permission from WITHLEAH

Lost

You’re still alive
She said
Oh do I deserve to be?
And is that the question? Oh
And if so, if so
Who answers?
Who answers?

“Alive,” Pearl Jam

I’m fascinated by Google Earth. Everything looks so nice and neat from a distance, but as you get closer and closer to the details you begin to see the messiness of where we really live. Not the bright blues and greens of a distant yonder, but the wilting daffodils by the mailbox, the old grill tucked away on the side of the house waiting to go to the landfill, the broken rail on the porch.

I feel the same about my past. On the whole, everything looks nice and neat and respectable. But there are parts of my past I would rather not call my own. In fact, I have actively avoided some episodes like the tousled hair morning after a one-night stand, moving on quickly in the brightness of a new day as if it never really happened.

But as much as I want to avoid the inevitable discomfort of making eye contact with my past, some of my experiences simply call me back and demand that I engage in a deeper dialogue to seek understanding and peace. Such is the case with my trip to New Orleans in 1994 when I went to visit a college friend and experience Mardi Gras.

World’s Biggest Party

It was the Saturday before Fat Tuesday, and the French Quarter in New Orleans must have looked like some science experiment from above. Eddies of motion swirled in random currents that started and stopped amid the mass of humanity flooding the streets. I had driven down from North Carolina with a friend to visit one of our former football teammates from college who relocated to Metairie, La. We were among thousands of people who had descended on New Orleans with masks, beads, and wild ambitions. Most of us good and drunk.

hqdefault71We had been making our way down Bourbon Street when I stopped to talk with a young woman who had inquired how she might obtain one of my cheap, plastic, pearl-like necklaces. The age-old Mardi Gras tradition of bartering to see if she would flash her breasts had begun.

We were well into our negotiations when her boyfriend appeared and began to take exception to the deal I was about to close. He and his two friends began encroaching on my personal space, which is saying something considering the tight quarters already required by the annoying physics of space and mass during Mardi Gras.

I stalled for time as I scanned the crowd for the faces of my friends. Nothing.

I turned my attention back to the guy who had just shoved me pretty hard. Talking my way out of this one wasn’t going to be an option. There were three of them, not including the young woman who was safely behind a wall of her male escorts now. The tea kettle pressure was humming just below the boiling pitch. The shit was about to get real, fast.

But a weird thing happens in times of desperation. The brain sends out a flare for emergency help. Even steeped in inebriation, my mind searched every corner for some useful information that might help. And then I saw something. The flare lit up the memory of a story from a friend who had been cornered during an altercation a couple years earlier. So, I seized on the idea like a man wielding an umbrella heading into a gunfight.

In my best “let’s-all-get-along” voice, I apologized again and explained I didn’t know she had a boyfriend. I suggested that everyone relax and have fun. “It’s Mardi Gras for heaven’s sake.”

As I’m talking, I slowly reached my arm around the boyfriend’s neck to emulate the camaraderie I was describing. Then, I looked once more into the crowd and saw one of my friends. Jeff, a former offensive tackle, stood about 6’3” and weighed in at about 250 lbs. He’s the type of person you wanted standing by you in such a situation.

The distance between us wasn’t great, but 15 feet takes awhile to cross when bodies are packed in the space between like the elevator of an office building at quitting time. With my eyes about the size of dinner plates, I frantically waved my free arm to invite him to get his ass over here. But I knew it was going to take too long.

The boyfriend didn’t appreciate the chummy gesture of putting my arm around his neck. He began to forcefully pull away. It was now or never. With my arm still slung around his neck, I pulled his head down and swung hard with an uppercut to where I thought his face should be.

It’s called a sucker punch – a morally reprehensible, cowardly and unredeemable approach to a fight. And it immediately ended his night of reverie.

In the sudden explosion of activity as people around us began to jump back out of the way, I found a crease between the bodies in front of me and ducked through it. I disappeared into the crowd.

Between the adrenaline and the alcohol flooding my bloodstream, I don’t remember the feeling of my fist slamming into his face. But I remember the blood. And then things began to get fuzzy.

Jeff finally caught up to me a few minutes later. “I think you broke his nose,” he said. “There was blood everywhere. As soon as I got there, you took off. I was left standing there with them cussin’ and shoutin’.”

“What did you do?” I asked.

“They said you were an asshole, and I told them that sometimes you get drunk and act crazy. Then, I told them I better go find you before you punched somebody else.”

“Is that your blood?” he asked.

I looked down and saw the blood that stained my hands, shirt and pants. “I don’t think so. It must be his.”

Night Cap

Several minutes later we finally located my other friend John, and the two girls he knew from high school whom he had invited to come with us to the French Quarter. We all entered a bar along Bourbon St. in search of a bathroom. I’d already been warned once (as in almost arrested) by one of New Orleans’ finest that urinating in the street wasn’t such a good idea.

The five of us had spent a couple hours pounding beers at John’s apartment before driving downtown. And on the way to the French Quarter, I had taken a few long, hard pulls from a bottle of bourbon before deciding to stand up through the moonroof of Jeff’s car to announce our arrival. That’s the state I was in before joining the world’s biggest party.

Of course, my first priority upon reaching our destination was to order the famous drink of New Orleans — the hurricane.  This sweet, but deadly concoction is guaranteed to knock you on your ass with about 4 ounces of light and dark rum disguised with passionfruit and lime juice. The storm was already brewin’.

After the altercation, we were all ready to find some relief in the form of a bathroom. We waded through a nearby bar to find a long line of squirmy people waiting in line for the same thing. The men’s room had a trough for the line of drunks to piss in, so we finished much more quickly than our female counterparts. Having a little time on my hands and a bartender nearby, I decided to order another hurricane.

I don’t remember much after that.

Borrowed Memories

I have a vague recollection of being escorted out to the street by Jeff after almost getting into another scrape inside the bar. And I remember deciding to strike out on my own. In full disclosure, I’m somewhat of a wanderer, especially after a few drinks. In college I was known to abandon my friends and walk home from a party or wander through a graveyard for no good reason. It is an inexplicable attraction to darkness that pulls me away like a gravitational force.

So, while others were distracted, I wandered off down the street. I left behind the only people I knew among a throng of thousands. I did not know the address of John’s apartment or how to get there. I was gone.

My next memory is waking up the following morning. It took me a minute or two to recognize what I was looking at when I opened my eyes and my dull consciousness started to slowly absorb the surroundings. I was lying on top of my gray sleeping bag on the floor of John’s apartment. The milky pink stuff on my sleeping bag, I realized, was a dried pool of my own vomit — signs of the hurricane’s destructive path. And I didn’t remember any of it.

What happened between the moments of consciousness that morning and the previous night is something I still have difficulty understanding or explaining. I was lost in a most real and terrifying way, and worse, I had no conscious awareness of the fact. Since I have no memory of the rest of the night, I have had to rely on the memory of others for what is still one of the most profound events of my life.

Apparently, at some point in the early morning hours, Jeff and the two girls decided to catch a cab back to the apartment after having no luck finding me. John stayed behind and headed back to the first bar we stopped at in hopes that I might show up. Jeff and the girls made their way out of the French Quarter and hailed a cab.

Several blocks down the road, Jeff casually glanced out the window and saw an unusual site in what looked to be a sketchy part of town. In a field about 40 yards away, a large man standing about 6’5” and weighing close to 300 lbs. was dragging the limp body of another man by the collar of his shirt.

Somehow, Jeff realized at a quick glance as the cab drove by that the limp body was mine. “That’s Paul! Stop the cab!”

The girls assumed he was kidding. “Yeah, right. Shut up, you’re drunk,” one of them said.

But Jeff was confident. “I’m serious. That’s Paul. Turn the cab around.”

The cab stopped and Jeff approached the much bigger man who was holding me by the collar.  

“That’s Paul,” Jeff said. “We lost him. We’ve got to take him back to the apartment with us.”

The man acquiesced, and Jeff pulled me into the cab and saved my sorry ass from whatever unimaginable fate I was headed for.

Lost and then found.

Grace and Resurrection

Math was never my strong suit, but I’m guessing the odds of Jeff recognizing my limp body being dragged down a street well away from the thousands of people I had last been seen with and from about 40 yards through the blurred windowscape of the cab are infinitely small. The kind of infinitely small odds that people talk about when they talk about the Big Bang creating a planet in a galaxy that could sustain life as we know it today.

The weight and significance of the experience began to slowly seep into me as Jeff and I drove the 15 hours back to Greensboro, N.C. the following day. Most of the time I wasn’t driving was spent in the backseat of his old Mercedes diesel. I was laid out, hung-over and feeling intimately close to something bigger.

It is strange how sometimes we are only able to see the bigger picture and understand and draw meaning from an experience in retrospect. Despite how real, painful, joyful or numbing the experience, the close proximity doesn’t allow us the context to appreciate anything other than knowing something significant has occurred. It was years before I had enough distance to see the patterns and then decipher meaning from them.

On the ride back home, my body and my mind ached with longing. I drank a lot of water to address my body’s needs, and I started making a list of words that gave my mind some peace — simple words that had pleasing sounds when spoken. Rainbows, mud puddle, midnight, moon shadow, deliquescence. Somehow these words comforted my mind and my soul, which were still wrestling with the events from the weekend and their meaning.

There was nothing redeemable about my actions that night in New Orleans. I was a first-class fuck up in every possible way. Had I been arrested for any of my infractions that night, a judge would have rightly thrown the book at me. If, as Martin Luther King Jr., suggested, the arc of the universe bends toward justice, then I should have met whatever fate awaited me along the streets of New Orleans. That would have been justice.

I kept drinking. I pissed in the street. I broke someone’s nose. I walked away. I struck out on my own. I left my friends behind. I got lost among the masses.  

But I was found. I was saved from that fate. I was returned to those who cared for me, those who made sure I didn’t drown in my own vomit.

That isn’t fair or just. It is grace.

Grace is a word born bloody and beautiful from the womb of experience. It is a grace I didn’t and don’t deserve. A grace that transforms and brings new life. When I wandered down the dark streets of my mind looking for an escape, God found me and brought me back. It was my own resurrection. I was found, and I was made new. Again and again.

My experience in New Orleans is how I understand the unconditional and transformative power of God’s love. Because salvation isn’t something we wait for in the next life. It is something we are offered and asked to live out today.

We are all recovering from something. We are broken in a million different ways. We carry our own secrets and pain and hide our scars from the world. We all wander our own dark streets and get lost among the multitudes hoping not to be found. We even die our own deaths. But God continually resurrects us and makes us new. When I don’t know how to love myself, God is still able to love me. I made it back. That’s grace, and it makes all the difference.

During the days after my trip to New Orleans, I could not fathom why I had been saved. Still today I struggle to understand God’s purpose for my life. It’s one of those frightening questions that I tend to avoid like looking directly at the sun. But I’ve learned that God’s purpose for us is one of those inescapable questions of identity. The question of identity can be just as intimidating, so it usually is more manageable to consider who am I this week, this month, this year, and then create the quiet space to reflect and listen for what that means now.

A good pastor friend once told me that when giving holy communion, St. Augustine used the words, “Behold what you are. Become what you receive.” Those words so beautifully capture the paradox of identity. We are exactly who God has made us to be. Behold, we are beautiful creations. Yet we must embrace that person and our gifts to live out God’s purpose for our life, to be the grace we have received. Some days that is harder than others.

Faith isn’t about absolutes or easy answers; it’s not about a life free of struggle or challenge. Life is still full of pain and joy, suffering and celebration. But having been lost, having walked down the dark streets and away from everything, I was able to find something, too. I found that I wasn’t alone. I was never alone. And maybe I needed to wander away to discover it.

I still tend to wander away from who I am called to be and what God is asking of me. Sometimes I just get sidetracked, sometimes I don’t find the space to listen, but other times, I’m more willful in my resistance. Face it, sometimes the things we are called to do are hard and painful and messy. Mostly they require us to look beyond ourselves, our routines, our to-do lists, our personal desires and our ambitions to help someone else. So God reminds us. Sometimes we just need some minor course corrections; other times we need something a little more dramatic to get our attention.  

My prayer is that we open our eyes to see the grace God brings to us in a dried pool of vomit and the other ugly messes of our lives. That we might recognize the new life we have and the responsibility we now share. That just as God used someone to find, renew and build us, we might offer the same for someone else who may be wandering their own lonely streets, lost among the masses.

The festival of Mardi Gras grew out of the religious tradition as a pre-Lenten celebration. It is the proverbial last call before Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a six-week season of prayer, reflection, repentance, atonement and preparation for the resurrection of Easter Sunday.

Owning this story and my past was an important part of my own Lent, even before I understood and appreciated the historical and spiritual context of what it represented. The essence of Lent was embodied in my experience in the same way the Holy Spirit is embodied in the bread and wine of the Eucharist. By confronting that night and calling it mine, I also now own the extraordinary grace that comes with it. Each year, as Lent comes to a close and we approach Easter, I am reminded again that Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.

And so must we.

-Paul’s story

Homosexuality, Depression, And the Church

Depression has always been a part of my life – it has always been lurking in closets and under beds for me – but 2014 was the year it decided to come out in full force and pin me to the ground. My world – a world once teeming with social connections, creativity, and activity – collapsed in on itself. It was as if the atmosphere of my vibrant little world was sucked out by a passing planet, and I was left fighting for life.

I am a gay Christian, raised in the conservative, Evangelical Christian world. As a teenager and young adult, I grew up in the ex-gay world, where even just the identity of gay was considered sinful. After many years of struggle, I eventually came to an affirming position on homosexuality in 2013 at the age of 24. I also wrote a blog, called Sacred Tension, which engaged in dialogue about faith and homosexuality.

But then, in 2014 , something happened to me. I’d always taken depression for granted – it was part of my life and I would fight it when it came – but this was a depression I couldn’t fight. This was a darkness so deep and so heavy, that I wanted to lock myself away from the world forever.

One day, I wrote in my journal:

    Sometimes I wake up in the morning and there is a ferocious anger in my chest. It’s a gay anger. Anger at the conservative world. Anger at the church and straight Christians. It is a lifetime of holding brutal conversations, impossible paradoxes, misunderstandings and well-intentioned but hurtful words. I’ve held it all, in the hopes of creating a better, kinder world, but like an ugly and sour bacteria, it has fermented me – made me angry, bitter, and depressed.

My depression spiraled out of control. It got worse and worse, and I entered a space where my one goal – my one purpose – was to make the pain stop, and I went to many dangerous and unhealthy measures to do just that. It was as if every single hurt, misunderstanding, and fear I had ever felt as a gay person in the Christian world all came alive at once.

I was only mildly bullied in school, and I’ve never been assaulted for being gay. Other Christians, with a few painful exceptions, had always spoken to me in kind, measured tones. But, nonetheless, a lifetime of subtle dissonance finally broke me. Feeling homeless in my own home and my own religion, the constant strain of defending myself or pretending. I simple couldn’t take it anymore.

I would wake up in the morning and want to shrink into a tiny, quiet place where nothing – absolutely nothing – could touch me. The gay debate had grated off all my skin, and all that was left was raw nerve and muscle. The only time I felt any peace at all was when I would go deep in my yoga practice or high up in the mountains – places where everything was perfectly still, and I was far away from the clamour of the church.

After months of struggle with depression – of climbing up and then sinking back down – I met a man with whom I had an instant connection, and we became boyfriends. He has been a wonderful support – a sudden light shining like a spotlight into my dark world. But the new-found dissonance of being in a relationship triggerd another spiral. And then the anxiety came.

The anxiety made my brain feel like fire. I would try to listen to music to distract myself, and the music itself felt like the vehicle of torture. I would try to read or watch things that were funny or lighthearted, and they would just cause absolute torture, for no reason, as if I were watching a genocide instead of Kimmy Schimdt Unbreakable. My brain responded to every thought, every activity, every piece of music or article, with panic and horrible pain. Panic was the setting within which my brain was trapped, and my heart constantly pounded, my palms sweated, my mind raced with unbearable thoughts. The whole world seemed ruthless and dark and altogether painful, with no goodness, no light, no kindness.

It got to the point where I would wake up in the morning, and scream, and scream, and scream. I would pace – pacing was torture, so I’d try to lie down. Lying down was torture. I was left to just sob and wait for it to leave. It almost never did. When the anxiety left, it left me numb and exhausted.

~~~

Recovery has been a long, slow process. In spring of 2015, I got on meds, started running again, started seeing a therapist, started a 12-step program, found a sponsor, and intensified my yoga practice. My slow ascent from Hell began. And none of it would have been possible without my boyfriend, who has provided gentle care, presence, and strength for me.

Depression and anxiety changes you. Even though my last episode was in June of last year, I still feel fragile. The very thought of returning to the anxiety and depression makes me start to spiral again. I am far, far more careful – I take my pills religiously every day, and I panic every time I miss a dose. I am hyper-vigilant about how much work I take on, how much sleep I get, how much I exercize – for fear that something could tip me over into the abyss again.

Depression and anxiety occur when a trigger is hit that starts the biochemical and spiritual spiral into despair. For some it can be war, loss, or stress. For me, it was the constant, subtle strain of being gay in the Christian world.

The harm that gay people experience in the Christian world is real, and many gay people are suffering as I have. The church need not be violent, angry, or exclusive for it to commit harm. It need only be ashamed, uncomfortable, or unwilling to enter into the lives of its gay members. It is not just exclusion and unloving words that kill, but also the deep anxiety and ambivalence, the inability to empathize with the interior worlds of LGBT people, the political wars and divisions over us, the talking about us instead of talking to us. All of it is subtle, all of it harms – especially those of us who are gay and raised in the church. The Church isn’t something we chose, it is the world into which we were born.

I don’t know the solution. I don’t know how to fix the mess – the church, in its constrained humanity, is full of people often doing their best with what they have. But their best is often deadly.

The only place I can think of to start is with sight – with total awareness. With sharing pain and telling stories. Perhaps, that can lead to grace.

-S.B.L.’s story
Reposted with permission from http://sbradfordlong.com.